One man’s ambition to turn Bintulu port world class

Mohammad Medan

Bintulu Port Holdings Berhad (BPHB) Group chief executive officer Datuk Mohammad Medan Abdullah, despite his busy schedule, found time to talk to New Sarawak Tribune in an exclusive interview recently.

Before taking charge of BPHB Group, Mohammad Medan served as the managing director and president (Asia Pacific) of Gazprom Marketing and Trading Pte Ltd (Singapore), an affiliate of Gazprom Group, the largest gas company in the world.

The 62-year-old Kelabit enjoys writing poems on nature and play the guitar, sape, ukulele and serudi — a bamboo wind instrument.

Mohammad Medan has more than three decades of experience in the oil and gas industry. He plans to turn Bintulu Port into a world class port operator.

Here, he talks about Bintulu Port Holdings Berhad’s operations as the country’s export terminal for liquefied natural gas and its role in the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).

Among others, he also talks about Bintulu Port’s efforts in transforming into a green and smart port.

He also highlights BPHB’s major initiatives achieved within the last year.

Following is the first instalment of a two-part series. The second instalment will be published tomorrow.

New Sarawak Tribune: How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted Bintulu Port’s operations?

Mohammad Medan

Datuk Mohammad Medan Abdullah: Bintulu Port is one of the service sectors listed under the essential services during the movement control order. Even though the pandemic has upended the landscape for maritime transport and disrupted logistics supply-chain, Bintulu Port’s operations have remained open and continue to provide services to our port users and customers.

What measures have Bintulu Port Holdings Berhad (BPHB) taken to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic?

The sudden surge of cases in China and around Asia raised an immediate and deep concern for us. We started to closely monitor the situation as early as February. When lockdowns were imposed in March, BPHB responded by releasing a Business Response Plan or BRP in April. The BRP outlines our strategy in keeping our business going as per usual; and as mean to ensure that the port will continuously operate and remain open to our port users all throughout the pandemic. The response plan allowed us to identify all the potential disruption at the early onset and enabled us to mitigate and manage the risks involved, which even at the present time, continues to be relevant.

Mohammad Medan

Among some of the strategies we employed were to help and enable our customers to deliver value by providing targeted incentives to them. At the same time, internally, we embarked on optimising our costs as well as practising prudent cash preservation by reviewing and prioritising our capex spending plans and expenditure. We also put in place a communication plan to help us be constantly in touch with all our stakeholders.

We also prioritised keeping our employees safe, notably during the early stage of pandemic, when we ordered our people to work from home at the beginning of March 2020, before the movement control order was put into effect. This was done despite our port services being listed as an essential service. We were also among the first organisations in Bintulu responsible for distributing personal protective equipment widely, not just to our employees but also to our local communities as well as health care workers, frontliners and hospitals.

It was reported at the end of 2019 that the Sarawak government was considering taking over Bintulu Port from the federal government. Are there any updates?

Mohammad Medan

BPHB is a holding company that is listed on Bursa Malaysia. Bintulu Port Sdn Bhd (BPSB) is one of the wholly owned subsidiaries that is engaged in providing port services which include marine services, cargo handling and storage, stevedoring, supply base services and bunkering services. Currently, the Sarawak government is our largest single shareholder holding more than 39 percent share in BPHB, which is represented by State Financial Secretary Sarawak and Equisar Assets Sdn Bhd.

Bintulu Port aims to be a significant LNG ISO tank export hub in the Asean region. Could you elaborate on the progress towards achieving this goal, including BPSB just recently marking the full commencement of its LNG ISO tank handling operations?

For the port, the dynamic mix of our 37 years experiences in handling LNG, strategic location adjacent to the second biggest LNG terminal in the world and the presence of our container terminal with reliable services provide Bintulu Port the first mover advantage in becoming an enabler to shift the LNG landscape.

The vision of making Bintulu the LNG ISO tank hub is a shared vision of Bintulu Port together with Petronas and Tiger Clean Energy (TCEL) since 2017 in changing the LNG landscape through innovation and exporting LNG in ISO tanks.

Mohammad Medan

In achieving the vision, each of the stakeholders has specific roles to play. Bintulu Port plays the crucial role of providing reliable and safe port services and facilities to receive LNG ISO tank vessels and to handle the LNG ISO tanks. Bintulu Port also plays the role of providing land for the setting up of an LNG ISO tank filling facility.

After years of preparation, Bintulu Port is now ready with its LNG ISO tank-dedicated facilities and equipment to handle LNG ISO tank operations at the port. Bintulu Port completed its first LNG ISO Tank operations with the maiden call of TCEL from a 169-metre length overall vessel, Fan Zhou 6 to Bintulu International Container Terminal on the January 20 this year. Two hundred units of ISO tanks were successfully discharged and unloaded within six hours of operations. The ISO tanks will be filled with LNG at the filling facility located within our port premises. Once filling has been completed, the ISO tanks containing LNG will be transported to BICT for export.

We are confident that the diligent efforts that are continuously made by all parties will lead to the establishment of Bintulu as the first LNG ISO tank hub in the Asean region.

How was the operational and financial performance of BPHB last year (2020), as compared to 2019?

Mohammad Medan

Bintulu Port Holdings Berhad Group’s cargo throughput performance beats expectation for 2020 performance. A significant recovery has been observed in Quarter 3 and Quarter 4 2020 due to more countries reopening their economies after going into lockdown in the first half of the year to halt and fight the spread of Covid-19.

BPHB Group’s cargo performance for Quarter 4 shown the highest volume compared to the rest of the quarter in 2020.

BPHB Group forecasted a 7 percent decline in cargo throughput compared to 2019. However, our actual performance only registered a minimum 5 percent reduction. In 2020 we handled a total of 47.608 million freight weight tons.  

What are some of the latest major initiatives (MOUs, agreements etc) achieved by BPHB within the last year?

At the start of the previous year, we saw our team in Brunei commence their operations in January, signalling the group’s first business foray and penetration into an international market. We plan to continue growing our service offerings and expertise within the Brunei market all throughout this year.

We also rolled out new group wide internal policies in order to comply with Section 17a of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 which came into effect on June 1. In tandem with that, we also wrapped up phase 1 and 2 of our governance risk and control transformation programme and are now in the process of undertaking further implementations in order to holistically strengthen our policies and procedures that govern the operation of our businesses as whole this year.

In April we saw the first ship-to-ship commercial bunkering operations being undertaken by Tumpuan Megah Development Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Straits Inter Logistics and carried out on the vessel named “MT Sturgeon” within BPSB’s Port water limits.

The group also locked in and signed a sub-lease agreement with Tiger Gas for the ISO tank filling terminal and facilities in May of 2020. This was followed up with us having achieved operational readiness for LNG ISO tanks by September, which saw the completion of the interim facilities as well as the SOP’s related to the operations. Earlier this year, we received the first major shipment of LNG ISO tanks in January, being the first port in Asia to do so on a large-scale.

In June, our Bintulu International Container Terminal or BICT received the maiden voyage for SITC’s new China-Malaysia-Vietnam service, through the berthing of MV Bahamian Express. This new service route by SITC strengthens the connectivity between Bintulu and other major ports within the Intra Asia Trade Routes, namely with the addition of Ho Chi Minh and Qui Nhon.

We also held our annual general meeting in July in a fully online session, which was a first for us. We also saw the signing of an MOU between BPHB, Regal Lands Sdn Bhd, Agensi Inovasi Malaysia or AIM and the Port of Rotterdam in July, which was conducted via a digital signing ceremony. 

We also secured a contract extension with PTTEP in October as well as another long-term contract with an oil and gas major, Mubadala Petroleum in November for the support base contract for a three-year period.

The month of November also served as an important milestone in our history, where we saw the berthing of the largest LNG vessel yet to be received by Bintulu Port as well as surpassing the 1 billion tons of cargo handled mark, accumulated since 1993. This was a high-water mark in our group’s long history. 

Furthermore, all throughout the year, we saw a handling of a total of seven LNG vessels for the gassing up and cooling down operations, which is a growing business area.

We also launched a maritime security transformation programme in September which aims to implement awareness and training programmes geared towards heightened accountability in the security sector within the port premises and water limits.